Over at the Patheos blogging network is a blog called “A Few Grown Men.” The blog consists of four writers, all men (bet you didn’t see that coming), blogging on topics like lessons men can learn from Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln to advice on building your daughter’s self-esteem. I haven’t read any of these articles, so I cannot speak to their quality, but they make complete sense on a blog featuring men discussing issues faced by men.
One of the blog’s authors is a man by the name of David Murrow. He was communications director for Alaska Governors Sarah Palin and Sean Parnell. He also started an organization called Church for Men that “helps local congregations reach more men and boys.” I was unaware the Church had issues reaching men, but then, I’m a man who has never been a church attender. I suppose I illustrate the point.
Anyway, Murrow has two recent posts on the blog discussing why men don’t share feelings. They are titled: Why Men Don’t Share Feelings (Part 1) and Why Men Don’t Share Feelings (Part 2). Now, I want to lay a couple things on the table, first. Besides his bio on A Few Grown Men and the two posts on men not sharing feelings, I have read nothing by David Murrow. I did not know he existed until I encountered his blog. Neither was I aware of his organization until today. Beyond the minimal amount of exposure mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, I have absolutely no insight into the life and thoughts of David Murrow. I lay that on the table because, despite all of that, I am convinced that David Murrow is not one of the “few grown men.” With that, let’s find out why men don’t share feelings.
Why Men Don’t Share Feelings (Part 1)
Men are socially conditioned to hide or minimize their emotions. Murrow gives a very hokey account for this, but I’m happy to agree with his basic point. There you have part 1.
Why Men Don’t Share Feelings (Part 2)
Let me quote Murrow directly: “…wives silence their husbands….”
Sorry, that’s not very clear, is it? Let me try this: “Most men do not tell their wives what they really feel because if they did, their wives would punish them for it.”
How does Murrow know this? To quote him: “I’ve spoken to lots of men who decided early in their marriages to open up and speak the absolute truth. And their wives freaked out, withdrew, cried, threw tantrums and plugged their ears. These men learned very quickly that their wives didn’t want to hear the truth – and that the key to marital bliss was to carefully manage what they did and didn’t tell their beloveds.”
As Murrow points out, much like housebreaking a puppy, when women “freak out” and “plug their ears” because of their husbands’ “truth-telling,” the men are trained to hide their feelings. QED.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Murrow just exemplified his point by comparing grown men to the childhood stage of an animal that will make itself dizzy chasing its own tail. I’ll pause, so you can finish laughing.
Murrow makes clear that he doesn’t blame women for all communication glitches. In fact he acknowledges that men do the exact same thing to women. How this isn’t a more significant piece of data for Murrow is beyond me. But whatever.
In the end, Murrow is “simply asking women to open their eyes to the possibility that they are contributing to their husbands’ silence. And I’m asking men to be more courageous in telling their wives the truth – no matter the cost.”
If you’re like me, you’re probably a little skeptical of Murrow’s assessment. However, I have left out a large chunk of his post – the thought experiment.
The Thought Experiment
Murrow offers a number of examples of “truth-telling.” He asks us to consider how wives would react if their husbands told them these truths. Would they elicit responses of calm? Thankfulness for honesty? Instant sexual arousal? Or would they elicit responses of self-blame? Covering of ears and fleeing? Cursing and physical assault?
His argument being, the deep-down hide-em truths that men may tell can be difficult to hear. When women cry, curse, and run away with their ears plugged, they tell their husbands that it was wrong to share such truths. Men understand this message, so they keep quiet.
In a bit of irony, a few of his examples of “truth-telling” about feelings don’t involve actual feelings. They involve sharing news that may arouse an emotional response, but they aren’t expressions of feelings themselves. I both think and feel like this should matter, but why let a pedantic point get in the way of a general truth, right?
His blog is called ‘A Few Grown Men,’ ostensibly because it is supposed to feature the writings and insights of grown men–mature men. To this end, I would like to play a game. It is called Grown Man: The Game™.
Grown Man: The Game™
In the Grown Man Game, we will consider Murrow’s examples of “truth-telling” from the point-of-view of…well…a grown up.
What is a grown up? It is someone with the maturity level of an adult. You may want to accuse me of being tautological in my definitions. You would be correct. It is done for effect, and you’ll understand why very shortly.
Remember, we are to understand these “truths” to be the actual sentiments grown men are silenced from sharing with their wives. Let’s begin:
Truth #1: I’m being tempted by another woman
A grown man does not use the passive voice to disguise ownership and responsibility. I assume this is meant to be something along the lines of allowing a friendship/acquaintanceship with a woman to go too far, emotionally.
A grown man says: “I am attracted to/emotionally involved with another woman.” A grown man shares this with his wife because he wants to own up to the emotional (and possibly physical) infidelity.
Crying, anger, a sense of betrayal, and cursing are all acceptable responses. Heck, depending on the details, the plugging of ears and fleeing may be acceptable as an initial response. When you pass on news that borders on “I’m cheating on you,” you can’t fault a person’s emotional response.
[Also, come on. Men are reluctant to share this with their wives because their wives “silence them”? Please. That’s more demeaning to men than the actual reason for reluctance: men are ashamed and afraid to admit it.]
Truth #2: I disapprove of one of your friends.
Hold on there, David. If your son or daughter is friends with a drug dealer (or a Seattle Sounders fan), you can “disapprove of one of your friends.” Your wife is an adult.
A grown man may not like one of his wife’s friends. He may not get along with one of his wife’s friends. But he cannot “disapprove” of one of his wife’s friends. Again, she’s an adult.
A grown man says: “I don’t really like your friend, Jamie. When Jamie comes by, I’m going into the bedroom to watch the game.” A grown man shares this with his wife. It is a good idea to inform your wife why you’re avoiding her friend.
Bemusement and laughter are acceptable responses. Also, I suppose you can tell your grown man husband it is okay for him to go into the bedroom when Jamie is over.
Truth #3: I am thinking about quitting my steady job to open a restaurant.
A grown man does not confuse thoughts and plans with feelings. This “truth” does not express feeling. Anyway,a man should share this with his wife. It would be irresponsible not to share this, especially if you’ve begun to put your plans in action.
Interestingly, if you actually talk about feelings, you might convince your wife to go along with your scheme. You can share feelings like how you are unsatisfied in your current job. You might mention that it is emotionally draining or mind-numbingly boring. You could discuss your passion for cooking. Maybe you feel unchallenged in your current job. Perhaps you feel like you’re wasting the MBA you earned a few years ago, and pursuing your dream of restaurant ownership will make you a happier and more cheerful person.
Acceptable responses range from eye-rolling to cautious interest to shared excitement.
Truth #4: I’m unhappy in church
I assume Murrow doesn’t mean: I no longer believe in God. As such, a grown man simply follows this up with why and what he’d like to do about it.
I can see where conflicts could arise in bringing this up, but the process is pretty straightforward. A grown man understands that his wife is going to have emotional attachments to things (like places and people) that are independent of his own emotional attachments. A grown man will recognize and expect that asking his wife to sacrifice some of her emotional attachments to address a concern of his will elicit some resistance. That is the normal response from an adult, male or female.
Truth #5: I think you should dress differently
…because it is inappropriate to wear that clown costume to court.
See, there is a context in which this is appropriate. That may be the only context in which it is appropriate to say the above, but at least there’s one.
Flipping the bird, laughing, and a hardy “fuck you” are all appropriate responses; unless, of course, you’re wearing a clown costume and about to show up for court.
Truth #6: I feel unsupported by you
A grown man shares this. It is very important to share this with your wife. You may want to fully hash this one out with the aid of a marriage counselor.
Actually, this is pretty heavy. A grown man is prepared to discuss this in detail.
Acceptable response include thankfulness for honesty and a desire to understand. Also, crying is acceptable. Likewise, self-blame is probably a natural response, but may be misplaced. Fear or nervousness for the future of the relationship are, similarly, understandable.
[Actually, this is one of the few meaningful examples Murrow uses. This is exactly the kind of thing a man will hold in that can be very detrimental.]
Truth #7: I think you’re wearing too much makeup
David, dude, wearing makeup does not equal being a harlot. Calm down.
A grown man says…nothing. Seriously. Get over yourself.
See truth #5 for appropriate responses.
Truth #8: I’m feeling a little bored in our sex life, and I’d like to try some new things
Let’s be honest, if you’re feeling this way, she’s may be feeling this way too. She’ll likely want to know what these “new things” are; however, the basic suggestion shouldn’t be too harmful. A grown man talks about his sexual interests and desires. Also, and very importantly, he listens to his wife’s sexual interests and desires.
This is the one and only times when spontaneously jumping his bones is an obviously appropriate response.
Truth #9: There won’t be enough money for the vacation you’ve been planning
Again, this truth does not express any feelings. However, it is instructive if a man would be cautious to tell his wife this news. It suggests that she is really looking forward to this vacation.
Once again, actually expressing emotions can have an influence on your wife’s reaction. For example:
This sucks! I just finished running the numbers, and we won’t be able to afford that trip to Italy. I’m sorry, dear. I know how hard you’ve been working to make this the best vacation ever. I am so grateful for the effort you put into the planning. Also, you know, the end of the world isn’t for another few billion years. So, we can just push the trip back to a time when we can afford it. I love you.
Okay, I got a little silly there, but you should get the point. Recognizing her efforts, showing concern for her response and being similarly disappointed when external factors undermine her hard work all demonstrate that you care about her.
Truth #10: I want to buy a boat
Cool, dude. There’s a part of me that wants to own an antique motorcycle. In my head, it gives me that air of old-school, rebel-without-a-cause ruggedness.
A grown man says, “I know our funds are limited, but I’ve been pricing around, and I think we can afford a boat. I’m bringing this up, obviously, because I don’t want to make such an expensive purchase without your input and consent.”
This is another situation where spontaneously jumping his bones may be an appropriate response (some people must have boat fetishes). However, I’m not sure it is as obviously appropriate as truth #8.
Truth #11: I wish you’d lose weight
David, you see, here’s the thing–sometimes “the truth and nothing but the truth” is simply cruel. For example, truth #11. You have to be an asshole to say this. A complete and total asshole.
Again, a grown man just never says this. If his partner’s weight is a salient issue, a grown man never get’s into long-term relationships. Plain and simple. You see, a grown man understands the implications of his interests. If one of them is so salient that ignoring it runs the risk of him causing emotional harm to other people, he makes sure he doesn’t ignore that interest. Even if he has to admit that the interest is shallow.
So, if you really can’t handle your partner putting on weight, don’t get into a committed relationship with that person. Easy.
Truth #12: I feel you’re spending too much money
This one is all about context. A grown man understands this context.
I’ll give you a hint: why do you feel she’s spending too much money?
If it’s because she’s eating into the funds you were gonna use to buy that boat you haven’t told her about, you’re not a grown man.
If it’s because she’s not sticking to that budget you never brought up with her, you’re not a grown man.
If you think it is inappropriate for her to spend money without your prior consent, you’re not a grown man.
I think you get my drift.
Truth #13: I’m struggling with pornography, and I need your help and prayers
Just to be clear, this is not a good way to say truth #8. Also, this is where Murrow’s conservatism most explicitly comes out. Okay, it’s not the first time, but still.
Here’s the thing, a grown man doesn’t have existential dread over pornography, itself. If he’s worried that pornography is interfering with his relationship, he recognizes that as a sign that something in his relationship needs to change. A grown man works out what needs to be changed, and he works with his partner to change it.
I touched on it during the game, but Murrow’s post is dripping with paternalism. Although we may want to praise him for discussing an issue like the inability in men to express and discuss their feelings in a mature manner, his account of this reveals how immature he is, himself.
I mean, let’s actually look at one of these:
Scenario: A man is basically the sole money-maker in the family. His wife does some baby-sitting during the week, but her efforts only slightly augment the family income. They have one child aged 3. The husband has been working a boring job that pays well and his secure. It brings in a good income that covers mortgage and car payments while allowing the couple to visit family on vacation.
One day, the husband allows himself to fantasize about his dream job, owning a restaurant. He begins devising a plan to make this dream a reality, and he presents it to his wife.
How is she supposed to react? There is a wide range of options, but cautious, worried, doubtful, and resistant should not come as a surprise. As such, a man should not feel “silenced” if this is how she responds.
Isn’t That Obvious?
Here’s the thing, I think Murrow (and his “lots of men”) understand this on a basic level. A large number of Murrow’s “truth-telling” examples are nothing more than pig-headed, paternalistic insults. They deserve a harsh, emotional response. If a man is too emotionally immature to handle that response, he needs to grow up.
This doesn’t cash out as the destruction of masculinity due to creeping “feminism.” Telling your wife you disapprove of her friend offends her dignity as an adult. Recognizing this isn’t rocket science. It requires the mere acknowledgement that a woman is, in fact, a person.
The bulk of the other examples simply reflect the compromise and interdependence that comes with being in a committed relationship. Sometimes you’ve got to give bad news. Sometimes you need to express your wants. Sometimes you have to ask for a luxury. You won’t always get the response you want, but you should expect a basic level of respect, support, and understanding.
If you don’t get that, you need to bring it up, probably with a marriage counselor. If the issues remain unaddressed, you should probably consider a divorce. You see, the basic rules of a mature relationship are not that difficult to articulate. However, they can be difficult to carry out.
As discussed in Murrow’s first post, men do not have a lot of resources and mentors to encourage men to express their feelings and develop emotional maturity. When it comes down to it, I suspect women are want for resources as well. Society may be more open to women expressing their emotions, but that does not mean they are receiving support in expressing those emotions maturely.
Murrow does not seem to recognize this important difference. He notes that men do not feel comfortable expressing their emotions; likewise, he notes that men are reluctant to express their emotions to their wives when their wives respond with resistance. According to Murrow, this is wives silencing their husbands. His solution is to tell women to silence themselves. Moreover, Murrow thinks this holds when the “truth-telling” these husbands are doing amounts to insults and emotional abuse. That’s fucked up, David.
So, to go back to my initial claim, I’ll call him a man. I’ll call him grown. But I won’t call Murrow a grown man. Surely, a “grown man” doesn’t tell women to take their husbands verbal abuse because reacting against it “silences him.” I believe that is known as justifying abuse. Or, to use the jargon of the field, douchebaggery.
What Have We Learned
So, what have we learned from Murrow’s two part exploration of men not sharing their feelings? Well, here are my two takeaways:
(I) Women: There is a good chance that your date/boyfriend/fiance/husband has the emotional maturity of a puppy. This is because there are very few avenues for men to receive mentoring in emotional development. As such, it will fall upon your shoulders to help the man grow up. Sorry.
If things get abusive, ignore David Murrow. Leave the fucker.
(II) Men: If you inform your wife that the trip she’s been planning can no longer be afforded, and she responds by bursting into tears, plugging her ears, and running out of the room while cursing at you, take the following three steps:
1. Ensure that you are not hallucinating. Instead of talking to your wife, you may have just told your 6 year-old you cannot afford that trip to Disneyland.
2. If you weren’t hallucinating, find your wife’s birth certificate. Confirm its authenticity and check the date of birth. You may be married to a 6 year-old.
3. If her birth certificate checks out, divorce her anyway. I’m pretty sure you’re married to a 6 year-old. That’s illegal.